Katie Conn at the European Open 2016

“The first time I met Katie, she was training to run a marathon,” says Rosie Sutherland, Y2K9s’ director of Agility. That drive to excel has been a guiding force in her life, and helped propel Katie to four international agility competitions, the most recent one this summer. It all happened in a surprisingly short period of time. Sally Silverman recalls when Katie “was a newbie. I showed her the ropes. Now she’s the international competitor who can pull a streak of 12 or more blue ribbons in a single weekend – truly a reflection of her hard work and dedication.”

Katie started taking classes in 2000 with Oreo, her first Sheltie. Her second, Chip, became a local agility star. Twix joined the pack in June, 2003. Though Katie did well with Oreo and Chip, it was Twix that made the difference, according to Rosie. “He was so much more competitive,” she explained, “so focused. He always wanted to keep working, no matter what.” He was the ideal partner for Katie. With both team members pushing their limits, they were flying to Arizona for USDAA Nationals by 2005. Two years later, agility champion Karen Holik saw Katie and Twix in action at an agility seminar, and encouraged her to try out for the AKC World Team.

Ritz in action

Ritz in action

They did, in 2007 and 2008, while honing their skills at the AKC Nationals as well. In 2009, they made the World team, and it was off to Austria. In the first international competition they ever entered, Katie and Twix finished 5th in the world in the individual competition.

Year round-training for Katie and Ritz includes a full schedule of conditioning routines, with special emphasis on flexibility for both team members: “I think if you’re doing a lot of competing, you and your dog need to be in good condition,” she says. “And that includes a lot of stretching to keep both of you limber.” To that end, Katie works out and sees a chiropractor regularly, while Ritz has regular visits with a chiropractor and a physical therapist.

So how do you get to Ruitz? Practice! Practice! Practice!

In late July, Katie and Ritz, her seven-year old Sheltie, flew to France to compete in the European Open 2016. After a day of sightseeing in Paris, Katie and Ritz traveled by bus to Ruitz (formal name: Maisnil-lès-Ruitz) for two days of practice. The official warm up, vet check, and opening ceremonies followed, culminating in two days of competition. The team came home on August 1st.

Katie and Ritz

Katie and Ritz

“I had a great time,” said Katie a couple of days after she returned. “But we didn’t do as well as I had hoped. You just don’t see that level of competition in this country. It’s so much faster, more intense – everyone is going for the win every time.”

In addition, European agility courses differ from those we see in this country. They are set up for speed, and their challenges are much greater. As Katie points out, “The courses that we run here are required to have the table and tire in every single course, no matter what the dimensions of the venue.” European judges don’t have to include every element in every course.

European courses also cover a lot of territory, and are governed by different regulations. As a result, European judges can construct all kinds of challenges within their courses. “There were seven back sides in one of the courses we ran,” marvels Katie. “You’d never see that in the US. On top of that, the Europeans are used to competing in those kinds of courses. We aren’t.”

Katie sends a giant thank you to “everyone who supported me by buying T-shirts and magnets, and to all who encouraged me – it meant more than I can ever tell you.” And she’s already preparing for Italy 2017, “concentrating on taking as many seminars and lessons as I can with people who can help me improve.”

That concentration, that intensity that Katie exudes is legendary among Y2K9ers. It was in Rosie’s classes that Janie Harris first got to know Katie, who soon took Janie and her dogs, Booker and Bailey, under her wing. Katie rarely hesitated to give advice, usually beginning with, “Janie, you need to….” Janie recalls a time when their class with Rosie was switched to a later hour. “I can’t possibly get up at 5 am to teach and still do this class,” Janie confessed to Katie. “Janie, you need to man up and do what’s right for your dog,” was Katie’s reaction. Janie dutifully signed up. At the end of the first class, an exhausted Katie turned to an equally exhausted Janie, telling her, “OMG, we are never doing this again.”

Katie’s single-minded focus carries over to her classes, which, as many Y2K9s students know, are usually energetic, and often demanding. But as Rosie points out, she’s also “very supportive, and will always be there for you. I think she’s a natural-born teacher.” This reporter was in Katie’s classes for several sessions in the early stages of our agility training. One evening, she set out an unusually challenging course. I remember feeling pretty good about the evening. The next day, I found an email from her in my inbox:


From: Katie Abrams <oreochiptwix@yahoo.com>
Date: May 14, 2008 5:51:07 AM EDT
To: Barbara Silverstein <basilverstein1@verizon.net>
Subject: class last night

Barbara – you & Lucy were spectacular! I really enjoy watching you both develop as a team. You handled her beautifully, and she knew exactly what to do! Keep up the hard work.


I have kept it to this day.

So congratulations to you, Katie, for your amazing spirit and ability, as teacher, colleague, and competitor. The entire club will be cheering for you, all along the way to Italy.


Barbara Silverstein is a Y2K9s Member and co-editor of Chew On This.

Watch these videos of Katie and Ritz in action:

 

 


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